Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis in action at the bronze medal match in Rio
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis, Britain’s only active Olympic badminton medallists, have hit out at the “horrendous” environment at Badminton England after their selection for the Tokyo Games was controversially turned down despite an appeals panel suggesting there was a “perception of bias” against them within the governing body.
The pair, who are reigning Olympic men’s doubles bronze medallists and Commonwealth champions, appeared to have secured their place by virtue of their position in the Badminton World Federation’s ‘Race To Tokyo’ rankings, which awards spots to the top 16 pairs in the world.
However, with fellow British pair Ben Lane and Sean Vendy missing the rankings cut off by just one place, Badminton England were able to decline Langridge and Ellis’ Olympic selection, instead allowing the position to be offered to their lower-ranked and far less experienced compatriots.
Langridge and Ellis’ initial appeal against that decision was successful, with an independent appeals committee ruling there was a “perception of bias” at Badminton England and a new selection panel should be “reconstituted”.
Despite repeated efforts from Langridge and Ellis’ lawyers to find out the make-up of the panel ahead of the re-selection meeting, Badminton England refused to divulge the information until after the meeting had begun. It was then apparent that the three voting members remained the same.
Those selectors once again picked Lane and Vendy, and Langridge and Ellis’ second appeal proved unsuccessful.
“It couldn’t really be a sadder way to end,” said Langridge, 36, who feels he has effectively been pushed into retirement.
Ellis, 31, still possesses Team GB’s best chance of a medal at the Tokyo Games alongside Lauren Smith in the mixed doubles, but says he will “never forgive” the governing body for ruining his Olympic preparations.
“The last four weeks, the atmosphere in the training environment has been horrendous,” Ellis told Telegraph Sport. “They have pretty much disposed of Chris. It’s like he’s just been discarded by the side of the road like a dead dog.
“I disagree with the selection completely, but what’s happened after that is equally bad. I’ve been trying to train and do the best I can, but every time I go into the badminton centre in Milton Keynes it feels like me against everybody. I feel very isolated and don’t see how that can change between now and Tokyo.
“I love the thought of continuing to the next Games in Paris, but looking at the current state of affairs and relationships, I’m going to have to question whether I can continue in that environment.
“How can I trust the people running the system now that they’ve gone to these lengths to make this decision happen? I don’t know if I can ever forgive them for what they’ve done to my Olympic preparations. My preparation has been really, really poor. At the moment, I don’t feel ready.”
Marcus Smith and Lauren Ellis will compete in the mixed doubles
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Although most countries have a simple policy of selecting the highest players in the world rankings for the Olympics, Badminton England – which oversees the GB Badminton programme – instead has a five-point selection criteria.
Langridge and Ellis are indisputably ahead of Lane, 23, and Vendy, 25, on world rankings and recent major achievements, after claiming European Games gold in 2019 and European Championships bronze in 2021. Lane and Vendy are yet to win a major international medal as a pair.
However, the selection panel opted for Lane and Vendy when comparing current levels of consistency, longer-term potential and performances against higher-ranked pairs. By virtue of their higher world ranking, Langridge and Ellis claim that final metric puts them at a significant disadvantage.
Having secured a rare successful appeal against the initial selection decision, Langridge and Ellis say they felt the re-selection meeting was a fait accompli when they belatedly found out the three voting members on the panel were identical to the first time around.
“We both feel they didn’t treat us fairly, didn’t follow the process and were biased,” said Langridge, who is one of Britain’s most successful badminton players with seven medals from the four major multi-sport events he has competed at during his career.
“Before the first meeting I felt things had changed over the last few months with the coaches. I felt they had a pair they favoured and I said to Marcus that I was concerned they would find a way of getting the pair they wanted selected.
“We just wanted a new panel for the second selection, because if you have the same three people voting again, you’re going to get the same outcome.
“The appeal verdict didn’t say every single person on the panel needed to be new, but they said the panel should be ‘reconstituted’. It comes down to a definition of that. We knew there wasn’t a chance they would do anything differently. To no surprise, they made the same decision.”
A GB Badminton spokesman said the selection process was “very robust” and the selection criteria adhered to “rigidly”.
“The first appeal panel urged the selection panel to reconstitute, to include an independent chair and/or a lawyer to avoid any perception of bias,” said a spokesman.
“GB Badminton did this and also included a representative of the British Athletes Commission. All three were invited as non-voting members to oversee the second selection meeting. The non-voting members of the panel confirmed that the process had been undertaken fairly and consistently, and in accordance with selection policy.”
‘The hostility was unbelievable’
The pair’s claim that they have been “treated like dirt” since the decision is something they say is reflective of a wider culture where player wellbeing is neglected at Badminton England.
Smith, who is Ellis’ girlfriend as well as mixed doubles partner, last week said she has “dreaded” going into training with “biased” coaches who she claims do not want the best for her.
She said players’ “wellbeing and happiness” is “not valued”, and that “players have lost their voice under a domineering coach-centred system” at the national centre.
Langridge said: “I went into training for a few days and nobody would look at me. It was like I had Covid. The hostility was unbelievable.
“I’ve had messages from players in other countries where they can’t believe what has happened. I can’t even comprehend how it is for Marcus now. He is our highest-ranked badminton player in Team GB, and he’s being treated like crap.
“You can’t treat your athletes like rubbish – they are the integral part of the set-up. If they feel good and are happy and confident, they will perform to a higher standard. But if they don’t feel comfortable or safe in an environment, how can they perform?”
A GB Badminton spokesman said: “The situation we are in now is very disappointing and is a significant distraction to everyone involved with the GB badminton team – players, coaches, and support team – and all parties recognise that the sole focus, right now, must be on preparing to arrive in Tokyo in the best physical and mental condition, ready to make Great Britain proud, as we did in Rio 2016.
“GB Badminton has committed to engage fully with all players on their return from Tokyo to listen, understand and tackle, head on, any challenges that might exist either within an individual player programme or the wider programme itself.
“Furthermore, GB Badminton has already requested that UK Sport initiate a culture health check to take place as soon as possible after the Games.”